sour cherry

Almost half an hour of music already done for the 18EDO album. It varies from percussive gamelan-like stuff to drones, but it all seems to work out pretty well. It’s been fun, but the choice to use that tuning system is kind of a restriction both creative and technical, and it’ll be good to leave it behind again in the future.

Let’s talk about Cherry Audio. They have a lot of cheap software synths, most of which are emulations of classic analog designs, and a few effects. They also have Voltage Modular, which I thought was limited in a lot of ways that “real” modular isn’t when I tried it.

A common position toward any emulation on KvR is that whatever it is, it’s terrible and doesn’t sound like the real thing. You’ll find people saying that about nearly any emulation, and I think there’s a kind of groupthink aspect to it where people will pile on to show that they have discerning ears. I never really take any of that seriously, because — with some exceptions — I’m not familiar enough with the exact piece of gear to really judge and also I usually care more about whether it sounds interesting than if it sounds identical to something. Honestly, my opinion of their stuff is most of it sounds okay (ranging into “cool” in some cases) but not necessarily spectacular.

But one criticism of Cherry Audio that I definitely share is about their UI design.

I don’t care for arguments about skeumorphic vs non-skeumorphic designs… if you want the interface to look like a piece of hardware with knobs, sliders, wooden sides etc. that’s fine, as long as you don’t ask me to imitate rotating the mouse around a knob to turn it. And it makes sense to use that sort of design when emulating a classic piece of gear.

But where it comes to layout… a lot of that gear was 4- or 5-octave full-sized keys, which makes it pretty long, and sometimes the rest of the control panel might have wasted space. That’s not good for putting on a screen, along with several other windows jockeying for position. So a lot of plugin developers take the liberty of rearranging things, while still preserving the visual language and aesthetics of the original gear.

Plus, there’s not really much benefit in drawing a keyboard on the screen when you’re going to be using a real one or a sequencer. Clicking on the keys is of limited musical usefulness, though maybe if you have a touchscreen it’s a little better. Still, most developers either skip the keyboard or let you disable it.

CA cares not about these things. No option to disable the keyboard. No rearranging the controls to fit better. Instead, they have a “Focus” button that lets you zoom in and look at the thing with a magnifying glass. I find this really awkward and a sign of poor design choices.

Okay, but that’s them just being a little overly faithful to the classic synths, right? They wouldn’t do that with their own original synths that only exist as VST plugins, would they?

…they would. Here is Sines:

I wanted to love this one. It’s based on phase modulation and waveshaping! But I just could not with this UI. Look at how busy it is… you HAVE to zoom in to be able to use it. They really should not have tried to force all 4 oscillators as well as 4 LFOs and 4 envelopes and the other stuff and the silly keyboard and the other wasted space into one screen. Tabs are your friend! But also, honestly, the synthesis methods here are something I can and do patch together very readily with Bitwig Grid or with my modular hardware. So I took a pass.

Here’s their latest just released today, Harmonia:

It is a lot less cramped and it’s pretty visually appealing. But still, this is not an ideal layout, especially for a synth that’s a fresh original concept and not an imitation of a piece of hardware. Here’s what I would do:

  • Eliminate the keyboard and pitch/mod wheels.
  • Go with a two-row design, oscillators on top and the LFOs, envelopes, mod routing and FX on the bottom row. Overall the aspect ratio would be more square.
  • Instead of an “Osc Mixer” just put the level/pan controls with their associated oscillators.
  • The envelopes should be sliders. Sliders are traditional for ADSR envelopes and easy to read, there’s no need to use knobs and graphical envelopes. Minor nitpick because it’d still take a similar amount of space, but it seems inconsistent.
  • Control range/response for the distortion could use some work I think. With the sort of complex sounds the engine produces, it doesn’t take much distortion to go overboard.
  • This is less strictly about UI, but I feel like one filter isn’t quite enough, or the osc sections maybe need simple lowpass filters built in.

Another disappointment outside the UI is that it doesn’t support MPE, and you can’t load alternate tuning files (e.g. Scala), and the pitchbend range is limited to 12 so it won’t work well with Bitwig Micro-Pitch — it can kind of do its thing monophonically but the pitch wobbles into place.

But! This is an interesting synth overall. It takes the harmonic oscillator concept but lets you retune each partial to different intervals, with some useful preset options. And instead of sines, you get samples/wavetables to work with. And you can modulate a lot of stuff at audio rate from one of the oscillators. Altogether, this allows for some very busy, very dirty, but controllable sounds and I’m really digging that.

I meant to write more stuff but I’ve just been playing with it for the last hour, so… yeah, gonna grab it despite its flaws.

economies of scale

Pretty sure it was the XBox controller firmware — it hasn’t crashed since I updated that. Whew.

I had a theme in mind for the next album project but I think that’s already been hijacked by another. I’d rather follow the actual inspiration than attempt to plan my inspiration, so that’s fine.

The first recording had this drone loop, and I arbitrarily set a couple of intervals to transpose it… and then later I wanted to match a part to those tunings and found a lucky near-match in 18EDO, so I went with that. I found it was kind of a neat scale to work with and to play on the Seaboard, so I wanted to explore it more and see where I could take that.

So the second track had a part sequenced on 0-Ctrl and quantized to 18EDO by Teletype, as well as another part played on the Seaboard — though I kind of twisted it by frequency-shifting the entire 1KHz-6KHz range and it sounds a bit like inharmonic FM.

After playing a bit with Scale Workshop and the Xenharmonic Wiki page on 18EDO, I had myself a set of Scala files I can use with Aalto (which doesn’t respect the Bitwig Micro-Pitch tunings). I wound up accidentally coming up with a self-playing patch using an 18EDO enneatonic (9-note) scale, which is almost a complete song in itself — I’m thinking of adding a little improvisation on the bass, with a very small selection of notes…

The chromatic 12TET scale has a half step between each note; the usual scale modes alternate in different ways between whole and half steps. 18TET on the other hand consists of third-step intervals. What they have in common is the hexatonic whole-tone scale: C, D, E, F#, G# A#.

But that ennatonic 18EDO scale has intervals either in 4/3 steps or 1/3 steps, and it only shares C, E and G# in common with a 12TET chromatic scale. (An augmented triad, very melodramatic/mysterious…) So if I want to play the bass to fit this scale, that’s what I’ll have to stick to.

There can also be some fun in having clashing scales and tuning systems though, so we’ll see what actually happens.

I could also do this on the fretless bass uke and try to work out where those third-step intervals are rather than using the marked fret locations… that might be a little advanced for me yet though.

So that’s a lot of words about the tuning system, but how about the timbre and overall feel? I’ve found myself accidentally taking some inspiration from the book I’ve just finished, Stephen Baxter’s Proxima. Which I think was a flawed story in several ways, which I don’t want to stay up all night laying out. But it also had some cool stuff going on, some pretty creative alien life, and that sort of mysterious landscape thing is working in my subconscious.

I also just watched the Annihilation movie this evening. It diverges quite a lot from the book (which I do not want to spoil for anyone here, whether you have or haven’t seen the movie) and the weirdness it gets into is completely different from the book’s weirdness, and there’s an obvious guy-in-a-suit special effect that looks more like a cheaply produced early 90s music video than the rest of the psychedelic spectacles we’re treated to, so one might say, it was flawed too. But also tense, and entertaining, and also dealing with mysterious landscape stuff. So that might end up feeding into the same pool of inspiration, we’ll see.

control freak

I think I figured out the crashing issue.

It only happens in games, and specific games… and mostly racing games. In fact… it only happens when I’m using the XBox wireless controller.

And sure enough, if I go looking I can find other people saying that games crash when they use the controller and don’t when they don’t, and the advice is always to update the controller using the (free) “XBox Accessories” app from Microsoft’s silly Windows App Store.

So maybe that’s been the problem all along. Something else to try anyway.

Intellijel just surprise-announced the release of a new delay module, the Sealegs. It does tape and BBD and old-school reverb and warbly wobbly stuff and I love what I’m hearing. I’m not sure it’s doing anything I can’t already do, but it’s a really thoughtfully designed module.

It’s 20HP. I would not try to replace my Mimeophon with it. jroo Loop maybe but that doesn’t clear enough space, so I’d have to part with Synchrodyne or Interstellar Radio.

Not going to act on this right now. Knobcon is coming and I might fall in love with some module there.

bumper snicker

Yesterday afternoon I went to the infrared sauna. As usual, I didn’t particularly enjoy the heat (especially on my face) and it didn’t feel like it did much for the worst area of my back, but other muscles relaxed and I felt better overall when it was over than before it began.

There was heavy traffic on the way back home, and for a while I was behind a car with a bumper sticker that said:

Back off, bumper humper!
MY brakes are good,
how is your insurance?

…in text too small to read without getting dangerously close, at least in moving traffic. I had no idea what it said until we stopped at a traffic light, but I can easily imagine less safe drivers tailgating that car just to read the sticker.

upgrades… but.

The new RAM came today. I put it in and… the computer didn’t boot at all. Hmm. Checked the internet to make sure I was putting the things in the right slots. Pulled them out and put them back. Nothing. Tried the advice of just using one at a time to see if one was defective. Nothing.

Realized I was trying to install them backwards and they weren’t actually seated in their slots because of the notch to prevent that from happening, but the little tabs you push to lock them in place looked locked. Not a great design there, Asus. (On the very first PC I had, a 10Mhz “Turbo XT” 8088 with 640K of RAM, me and my boss who was helping me build it put every single RAM chip in backwards and fried one that way. That was when that was something like 20 individual chips in plain sockets.)

With a little more fiddling I got it to boot with one, then a lot more fiddling and the second one finally slid home and… what’s this? It’s running them at 2133Mhz when the package very clearly says 3200. And the motherboard detected them as 3200 but ran them at 2133 anyway. More web searching… ah, you have to enable DOCP, which sounds like some kind of overclocking thing. And now it says it’s running at 1597Mhz… what? More searching… since it’s “DDR” (dual data rate) you have to double that reported clock speed to get the actual speed. Uh, sure, OK.

Fire up New Star GP, and… BOOM, it crashes pretty much right away.

A little more searching. “Update your BIOS firmware,” a lot of people said. Mine was from 2019 and there have been approximately twelve billion fixes since then. After more digging than I should have had to do to find the software that let me apply BIOS updates… that’s done. I was able to play New Star GP for a while without crashing, but just now I started Art of Rally and… nope, crash!

It’s the Computer of Theseus. Replace all the parts and it’s still the same inexplicably-crashing-only-when-playing-certain-video-games computer.

the point

There’s a thread on MW called “What’s the point?” which asks:

Just saw on another thread a few people expressing regret about having spent loads of time/money on gear and not achieving much – got me thinking, what do you do it all for?

There are many good answers, of course. One of the common ones is it’s not about achievement and people should simply stop feeling guilty/regretful for pursuing an “unproductive” hobby. People make music (or even just sounds) for many reasons, and making doesn’t have to mean creating a product for someone else to consume.

I happen to like finishing and releasing albums — even if they’re self-published and earn maybe a few bucks and a few nice comments at most. It’s certainly not meant to be a money-making endeavor, and it’s not about recognition or validation. I’m generally an anxious type, but one area where I feel quite confident is that I make some pretty good music. That’s according to my own tastes, but I’m also confident that my musical taste is valid.

I could just finish individual tracks and share them, but to me there’s still something of value in the album. I like listening to them for one, rather than skipping around at random. And to me the format both demands and creates a bit more coherence and continuity, and sets a somewhat higher expectation of quality. In some cases I’ve also played to the format with longer “suites” of several sessions that flow together. “Packaging” it all with a name and some artwork feels like it adds something too.

I really do all of this just for myself, not to please an audience. I think that’s the most honest thing one can do in the arts. But it’s nice that some other people happen to like what I do — I love getting comments, and appreciate that some folks are willing to throw a little bit of financial encouragement as well — so, thank you to those who are doing either of those things. And really, thank you to anyone who’s even just listening, and I hope you get some enjoyment from it even though I’m not making it for you in particular. It just means you have interesting tastes. 🙂

My own opinion of my work varies — I thankfully have never gotten into a state where I dislike everything I’ve done and wonder why I bother. (That’s much more of a short-term thing; sometimes if I have two or three “failed” sessions in a row I can feel like I’ve lost my way.) But my opinions of various past work certainly do fall and rise over time. In the past, I’ve been surprised when musicians said in an interview that they dislike a particular album or song which I particularly liked, but now instead, I’m just wondering if they came back around on those opinions.

old news

I’ve just posted a much-delayed page of patch notes for Yuki-Onna.

I was listening to it yesterday, wondered what something was, knew I had notes but they were in my YouTube posts and I had no map between the track titles on the album and their Jamuary dates. Bleh. So I decided to correct the oversight.

I think for the next album I’m going back to keeping patch notes.

surely this…

So with this “new” (2019) computer I started, at some point, having issues with some games — only ever games, and not all of them — doing something odd:

  • going to a black screen and then recovering after a pause of about two seconds
  • going to a black screen, my monitors losing their color profile settings, and the game hanging
  • a weird glitchy thing that happens semi-frequently but doesn’t interrupt gameplay.

I’m not sure when this started, but getting a second monitor seems to have made it worse. That second monitor is extremely useful when working from home and can be handy other times too (such as when making music).

At first I thought it was strictly an Art of Rally issue, because it happened after an update and at the time, that was the only game crashing. It was also after a graphics driver update, but I rolled back, tried beta drivers, etc. and nothing really seemed to help… until I went back to an even older driver and it seemed to stop.

And then another game would freak out with the black-screen-then-recover thing. And some games I tried on Steam would crash very quickly. And Art of Rally started doing it again.

I got a new video card a couple of months ago and it stopped. Aha! …and then it started again. Much more rare than before in Art of Rally, but still, it was happening. So were some other crashes though, after an update… so maybe not the card’s fault.

…except more games did it. Today, I picked up New Star GP which admittedly, just went into Early Access, and it had the exact same symptoms as Art of Rally. This new card is an AMD when the old one was an NVidia, so… it can’t be the card. Not overheating because it’s not even turning on the cooling fan. Power supply issues? Nah, I’m good (I intentionally went for relatively low wattage cards). Something else?

A quick Google search and I saw where someone else with a Ryzen CPU had weird issues with certain games crashing, and only games… ah. And their issue was the wrong RAM frequency set in their BIOS.

I checked and found mine was set to auto, but it said 2666 Mhz. That’s funny, the invoice for this computer says 3200. Either I got cheaper RAM than I paid for (and there are problems that look like this other person’s) or the board is just detecting the wrong speed. I set it to 3200, and we’ll see how that goes.

UPDATE: nope, it did not fix it. And I most likely was sent the wrong RAM… 4 years ago. I’m gonna go ahead and get some DDR4-3200 RAM because it’s fairly cheap to try it.

released: Betweenity

I completely forgot to post the announcement here, but I released the new album on Friday!

My spouse encountered the word “betweenity” in a list of unusual words that should be more common, and I agree.

I was going to use the name anyway, so it is a handy coincidence that the album was released on the last “day upon the year” of the Kemetic Orthodox calendar — a set of 5 (sometimes 6) days inserted between the end and beginning of a 360-day calendar year. In that religion, that is a time of uncertainty and disruption, but also celebration and ritual as each day celebrates the birth of one of the major gods. At dawn of the first day of the new year, everything is put right, and the Nile flood follows (allowing life-sustaining agriculture, kind of a big deal!)

I was Kemetic Orthodox for several years, a priest in fact. My religious status for the past several years could be described as betweenity. I don’t not believe, and I still love the gods, but at the same time, I am not participating as part of the temple or praying regularly. (*) This is something that I’m generally at peace with, even though I don’t particularly know why I’m at peace with it. (And I can imagine experienced Kemetic Orthodox folks nodding and saying “that sounds exactly what a Seshat child would say, if you can get them to talk in the first place,” and, well, yeah.)

Near the end of each year, there is a specific festival in which an oracle declares which god(s) will preside over the coming year. For this year, it is Nefertem, “the Beautifully Complete”, and a lot of it went right to my heart. I don’t, at this time, see myself returning to the temple but this is giving me something to think about.

(*) a bit here to make my stance clear on something. I very much dislike the closed-minded dogmatism of certain major religions. A large part of what drew me to Kemetic Orthodoxy is that it claims no exclusivity to “The Truth” — it can’t, it has multiple different creation stories, gods older than their own parents or who existed before the first god created himself, etc. It has no opposition to or denial of science, nor other religions. And the rules for being a good human all basically come down to “don’t ruin it for other people.” And it doesn’t proselytize. If I had to summarize what the point of the religion is, I would say it’s an art rather than a poor substitute for science, and it can give personal meaning, motivation, peace and strength.